Medicaid expansion was among the topics of most concern in Ellis County, judging by the number of questions on that subject submitted at a legislative forum Saturday morning.

On the first day of the Legislature’s spring break, four area legislators and the Big First’s congressmen addressed a nearly full house in the Stouffer Lounge of Fort Hays State University’s Memorial Union. The crowd included county officials, Hays USD 489 school board members, senior citizens and FHSU students.

Questions were submitted to the legislators on paper anonymously and read by Tammy Wellbrock, Hays Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. The chamber organized the event, with sponsorship from AT&T and Midwest Energy.

U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., also attended the forum, speaking on trade tariffs with China and addressing questions on funding for programs for people with disabilities and carbon tax. Marshall had to leave the forum after about 45 minutes to make another appointment.

Rep. Leonard Mastroni, R-La Crosse, was the lone voice among the state legislators who spoke in favor of expanding Medicaid.

The Legislature adjourned Friday with the House bill still in the Senate’s Public Health and Welfare Committee. The House passed the bill in March, with Mastroni voting in favor and Reps. Ken Rahjes, R-Agra, and Barbara Wasinger, R-Hays, voting against.

Senate Minorty Leader Anthony Hensely on Friday submitted a motion to force the bill out of committee to a vote before the full Senate.

In response to a submitted question encouraging Sen. Rick Billinger, R-Goodland, to encourage that vote, Billinger said he doubts the bill will move out of committee.

Twenty four committee members would have to vote in favor of moving the bill to the full Senate to override the Senate leadership’s scheduling.

“I don’t think that’s very realistic,” Billinger said.

Wasinger said she believes other problems in health care need to be fixed first.

“Right now what needs to be done is raising reimbursement levels for physicians and hospitals and everywhere. They’ll get more money just by raising the reimbursement levels to start with,” she said.

She also said the plan in the House bill won’t be of much help to rural hospitals.

“From all the studies I saw, the big hospitals will get all the money. Rural hospitals will get maybe $30,000, $40,000. That’s not going to save them,” she said.

Mastroni, however, citing numbers he said were form the Kansas Hospital Association, said the hospital in La Crosse would receive $142,000 if Medicaid is expanded. Pawnee Valley Community Hospital in Larned, which is in Mastroni’s district, would receive $450,000, he said.

“I think that is a significant amount to help my rural hospitals,” he said.

“One of the other things I’m concerned about, though, is how long can these small hospitals continue taking patients in that cannot afford to pay for the medical services? That’s a huge problem, and that falls directly onto the local counties,” he said.

Mastroni said he polled his constituents in the 117th District, and about 70 percent of the 500 responses were in favor of Medicaid expansion. Rahjes said a poll in his district showed only 31 percent in favor in the 111th district.

Rahjes said before Medicaid can be expanded, there needs to be discussion about delivery of healthcare, investing in school to teach about healthy lifestyles and blamed trial lawyers as part of the reason health care costs are high.

“We’ve talked for years about tort reform, and it never gets anywhere. Let’s talk about the litigious side of it,” he said.

Mastroni then spoke again to mention that in 2017, the Legislature did pass a Medicaid expansion bill, on which Gov. Laura Kelly modeled the 2019 proposal. That bill was vetoed by Gov. Sam Brownback. The House fell three votes short of the required two-thirds majority to override the veto.

“So why hasn’t an alternative plan been suggested in the meantime?” Mastroni asked.

Later during the forum, Rahjes addressed that question.

“Yes, there’s been health plans discussed, but the chairman of the health committee is not going to bring anything up to avoid a vote on Medicaid expansion. So I think it’s disingenuous to say ‘Where’s the plan,’ because trying to wait and see what was happening with Medicaid expansion,” he said.